Beginning Zen Practice
By: <a href="" target="_self">Shozan</a>

By: Shozan

From a talk given by Roshi in 1974 at Cimarron Zen Center in Los Angeles on the topic of beginning Zen practice (philosophy, not sitting instruction).

(From a talk given by Joshu Sasaki Roshi on Feb. 3, 1974 at Cimarron Zen Center in Los Angeles)

It seems there are some people here today who came for the first time, so I would like to say a few things for their benefit.

In this one world we all live together:  Gods, Buddhas, men, women, good people and evil people.  No matter how we talk about this world, whether we feel it is a good place or a bad place, it does not matter because we still have to live together.

Now, if there is a Principle Being in the world whom we could call “God” or “Buddha,” this being must be without any character whatsoever.  Scholars and philosophers write books and have discussions about the characteristics of God or Buddha.  Those, however, who engage in Zen or Buddhism discover that Absolute Being is like a mirror, simply clear and pure.  And it is because of this characterless purity that we are able to experience the variety of manifestations of the world:  both beautiful and ugly things, enjoyable and unpleasant things.

Since it has no characteristics, the Absolute Being we call God or Buddha also has not likes or dislikes either.  Human beings, however, have very definite likes and dislikes, avoiding what they dislike and seeking what they like, and troubles continually arise.  Why is this?  All of us have fixed ideas about who we are, thinking of ourselves as individuals with a preference for this, a dislike for that, talented for this, not good at that.  We continually reassure ourselves that this is who we really are.  The consciousness of human beings is imperfect and it is due to this fact that all our troubles arise.

Likening Absolute Being to a mirror means that its nature is that of reflecting everything clearly and purely.  We call things good or bad, but a mirror simply reflects without picking or choosing.  Although we all have this very same mirror within us, we insist on decorating it, hanging curtains in front of it, so to speak, or otherwise obscuring its purity.  Consequently our likes and dislikes grow stronger and stronger. Now, if you can see for yourself that in your humanness you are unable to reflect everything without exception, unable to unify everything without exception, then you can take steps to correct it.

People convince themselves there is such a large gap between human nature and the nature of the Absolute that there is not hope of ever bridging it.  The source of the apparent difference between the Absolute and the human could be called “greed.”  When you strip yourself of all thought and desire you will find that your nature is identical to the nature of the Absolute, that is, a pure, clear, shining mirror.  Furthermore, once you uncover this shining mirror within yourself, you will realize that you are completely free and not limited by anything whatsoever.

So we can say that the practice of Zen is to realize for ourselves this shining mirror within, and to bring this mirror to light.  It seems to be a very difficult endeavor.  However once your realize that the very foundation of existence, the very foundation of your entire life is based on the characterless nature of Absolute Being, you will see there is no problem at all.  If in your daily life you continually reflect on this shining mirror of non-character within yourself, you will eventually come to realize it as a fact.  If you seriously continue in your Zen practice, you will come to realize without fail that your nature and the nature of God are not different.

In the practice of Zen we come to the realization that in spite of all the seeming differences of this world there is only one basic True Nature.  Just one!  If we continue in our practice we also come to the realization that this True Nature is the same in every individual as it is in Absolute Being.  Unfortunately, you have all been taught that your nature and God’s nature are completely different, and that the difference is impossible to bridge.  Such a view makes things more difficult for you but if you continue with strong determination you can overcome it.

Since we exist in the human world we need to be able to interact with other human beings, so we also need to develop a kind of character that enables us to interact with others.  From this point on I would have to discuss the self that recognizes objects.  My talk could become quite difficult so I’m not going to continue at this time.  Meanwhile I hope you will all continue in your practice, keeping in mind that your True Nature and God’s True Nature are one and the same.

For more Joshu Sasaki Roshi teishos, click here.

<a href="" target="_blank">Shozan</a>


Shozan (Marc Joslyn, PhD) became a student of Joshu Sasaki Roshi in 1964 and was instrumental in founding the first Zen center in Los Angeles and, subsequently, Mt. Baldy Zen Center. He was ordained as a monk in 1972 and an osho in 1982. Shozan and Myodo moved to Bainbridge Island in 1986 and founded Entsuan Zen in 1995.
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